Technology in the Classroom: A Personal Reflection

Technology has been praised, criticized, and feared in the classroom.  The tumultuous discussion of “pros and cons” is all the more evident in today’s new media landscape.  To this day, many instructors resist the incorporation of technology for a number of reasons.  To some, the idea of new media in the classroom is frightening because it requires us to acquire new technical knowledge.  Do I even have time or want to take the time to learn how to use WordPress, Prezi or Twitter?  The same concern relates to students: will new media technology widen the socio-economic technological, digital divide?  Will students pay attention in class, when they could easily be on Facebook or shopping for shoes?  How would technology benefit my students’ learning? 

This short blog post is intended as a think piece—a call for those in the communication and media studies community to discuss the topic of technology and teaching.  This topic is nothing new, and something that so intricately relates to the topics we teach.  If anything, it is an ongoing discussion that I foresee ending no time soon.  As a new generation of media scholars enter graduate school and professorships, I see it imperative to have more of a dialogue surrounding this issue.

It is important to note that I am making this call for discussion on a blog platform, and thus, will reach some but not all.  In addition, the links I have incorporated provide only a glimpse, rather than exhaustive list of all the work on this subject.

Traditional Teaching and Learning

The traditional learning model requires students to sit attentively and take pencil and paper notes as a professor lectures at them.  For decades, this has been lauded as the best teaching and learning model.  Even though students are sometimes encouraged to ask questions, by and large, this is to a more top down, teacher/student divided environment.  Indeed, this was the way that many teachers learned during their years as grade school, university, and graduate students.  However, is the traditional lecture model the most effective today?  Are students learning more this way?

I’d like to briefly depart from my broader questions to some anecdotes from my career as a graduate student.  In my first year of graduate school, I recall being in a course where we were told by the professor on day one that no technology was allowed.  Notes were to be taken with pen and paper—no laptops, tablets, cell phones, or the like.  At this time I was all on board with this idea, as I learn best (or thought I did) when I listen and take notes on paper.  Based on my years as a student, I had learned that writing things down helps me understand concepts.

This bled over into my first few terms as a graduate student instructor, where I imparted the same set of rules upon my students.  I promised my students that going one hour without their cell phones or laptops would not be painful, and that I would make things as interesting and engaging as possible.  In my evaluations, I had no complaints about this method.  This method must have been working, right?

Teaching With Technology

The buzzword, “flipping the classroom”, is getting a significant amount of attention these days.  This is seen as a way to empower your students—learning on their own time, at their own pace, in ways more in line with their own daily lives.

The adoption and incorporation of technology in the classroom is often talked about as at odds with the traditional method of teaching (i.e. pros and cons of each method, rather than how they could be blended).  Various studies have boasted how beneficial technology is in teaching and learning.  One high school teacher talked about how he used Twitter in his classroom, and how it encouraged more students to participate.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2w9CnaeaiAE

He found that students felt more comfortable sharing their ideas through a medium that they were already using on a daily basis, and, even the kids that typically were shy or didn’t have many friends felt like they could fit in.

Another argument for the incorporation of technology in teaching and learning is that it prepares our students for the workforce by gearing them with the knowledge and skills required today.  Learning new media and related software is more than a resume booster.  For many jobs (and I’m sure, many down the line), having a basic understanding of a variety of social media platforms and software will be the minimum requirement.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YmwwrGV_aiE

Indeed, many of our students want a career in social media related fields and these jobs are aplenty.  Countless job posts are looking for “social media strategists” or “gurus”.  When we would have put programs like Microsoft Office or Photoshop on our resume under the “skills” section, this newer generation of students might note proficiency in Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, WordPress, Tumblr, and Buzzfeed.

My Changing Orientation as a Teacher

The notion of a traditional teaching method and classroom was complicated when I took graduate courses that encouraged the use of technology in the classroom.  When I was allowed a laptop (and brought my dinosaur of a computer, as my cohort called it) I was checking the crops on my farm in Farmville the entire class session.  Yes, I was taking notes, and yes, I was not paying as close of attention as I probably should have, but I was still learning.  I was still engaging in discussion.  If anything, I was able to be more engaged, as I could look up the topic at hand online to add more to the conversation.  Could this be a better approach?

The most significant shifting point for my orientation as a teacher, though, occurred when I took a graduate course on citizenship after television.  With two fellow graduate students, we created a teaching resource on a WordPress blog on the topic of video games and the law.  I felt empowered and invested in ways that go beyond writing an essay.

Since my early days as a graduate student instructor (mind you, I have only been teaching since 2010), I have loosened the reigns and allowed students to use their laptops, cell phones, tablets, and so on in the classroom.  I’ve even asked them to veer from traditional academic essay formats, and rather, to blog on WordPress, create Prezis, and YouTube videos.  When I cannot answer a question, I invite them to Google the answer—which has fostered richer classroom discussions.  More than anything, this shift has empowered students.  The classroom feels much more interactive, engaging, and interesting.

What do you think?  How can media and communication studies benefit from technology in the classroom?  How do we, as media and communication scholars and teachers, best serve our students?

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Julia G. Raz is a PhD candidate in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Michigan. Her dissertation investigates how constructions of the “ideal woman” are circulated and disseminated within the context of post-2006 exergames. Specifically, this project examines exergames as texts and related paratexts, in order to argue that these sources reinforce women’s domestic role as mothers and wives, and reinforce the ideal of women as sexual objects for their husbands through linking video game play to productivity. Additionally, this project suggests constructions of the “ideal woman” within this context importantly define what it means to have a family and what it means to be a woman, and can have a significant impact of women’s identity formations. –

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